ART NOW, DURATION IN COMMON, CONTENTS. Sarah Greig + Thérèse Mastroiacovo
It’s now, now.
Now it’s now.
No, now it’s now.
I am sure I have told you this by now, but many times when I am thinking about or reading or writing about something, a relevant quote or passage will come to me in a mysterious way. Most often, I pull a book off a shelf and open it to That One Thing I Need To Read Right Now. This time a designer I know had this quote as the footer in his email to me this morning: “Time exists in order that everything doesn’t happen all at once.” –Susan Sontag
There’s a cute bit of word play in the title of the show, the transformation of the title of one of Sarah Greig’s two video works from “Duration Uncommon” into “DURATION IN COMMON,” making this neat exhibition a Venn diagram of the work of two Montreal-based artists, Greig and Thérèse Mastroiacovo, curated by Kartz Ucci at the U of O’s White Box Gallery. They overlap most obviously at the book as subject of artmaking, but Ucci frames these as works about time, the book is after all an object that demands a durational engagement, be it of writing or reading.
By the time I publish this, you will have run out of time to see ART NOW, DURATION IN COMMON, CONTENTS., so you’ll just have to take my word for it. You would have needed, at any rate, to allocate at minimum 42 minutes to view Greig’s video work “Contents.” “Contents” is an heroic-scale projection of a video of Greig’s hands flipping the pages, once every six seconds, of a hand-bound book of thick pages that make the round, deep noise of heavy paper as she turns them. On these pages are photocopies of the contents pages (and whatever page faces them) of books on art, theory, experimental music, philosophy. Assuming these are chronologically organized, it’s fascinating, as an avid reader of same, to follow Greig’s reading path from conceptual art, to experimental music, through a brief period looking at body art, feminist art, and her engagement with continental philosophy. Thus the artist measures time in books read and pages turned.
That Greig is able to marry the time-marking conceptualism of On Kawara and/or Hanne Darboven with a cinematic lushness is a feat.
This is the sound of reading. This is scale subverting the intimacy of the book, enveloping the viewer like a movie screen…or an ab-ex painting…choose your experience of scale from the spectactular to the sublime. This is making spectacle of the hand-held while seducing with a formally beautiful, rhythmic, grid-based, monochromatic work. The openness of the project (she continues to add to the book and the video) makes it about process, about unfolding page by page, makes it a project of indeterminate length…as a book can never be. There are smart and provocative oppositional tensions here.
I have to confess that I feel such a strong affinity for this work that I didn’t want to leave that darkened gallery, an affinity for a work that takes as at least one of its subjects a tracing of this nature. This is the summary of a reading path. Unless it isn’t.
Which brings me to the cover and judging a book by it and the number of projects that focus on the book’s exterior…which brings me to the tumblr-like nature of some bookstacks…I’m not thinking of Nina Katchadourian, who uses book spines as found words to compose short poems in photograph form…I am thinking of a mural on the side of a building on the PSU campus that features an outsized stack of colorful book spines. The covers refer. Added up, they are a kind of shorthand that say something about a kind of reader. That is, if the reader is a reader and not a pointer. I am thinking of Tumblr’s function as a kind of shorthand identity creation tool. I point to, therefor I am. I may not know you via your tumblr, but I know the kind of person (or the kind of artist) you want me to think you are, your constructed identity, that is. So here’s a question: is “Contents” about contents or does it just point to contents?
To take another tack and separate the reader from the read—which is hard to do for me because if Greig is this reader, she should be my best friend—”Contents” is about the structure of the book, the ways we organize information between book covers that are so ubiquitous as to be transparent. And it’s about the rhizomatic web of ideas, names, writings that appear and reappear in these lists. As the contents page provides a snapshot of the individual book, the overlaps in names and ideas provide a snapshot of the tangle of idea and word and proper name that twines ’round contemporary art.
About those covers, which Greig studiously avoids… The White Box’s front galleries were devoted to a work of covers of covers. Thérèse Mastroiacovo’s “ART NOW” is an (apparently ongoing) series of drawings or cover versions of book covers, exhibition catalogues and books about art. Each featuring the word “now” in the title, they are beads on a string hung around the gallery in their uniform format and graphite greys. The repetition makes the covers cumulatively interesting like an old clock radio that flips on the minute with an audible click, but the time continues to read the same. As drawings, their execution is anything but precise…this is a project about its subject not its means. In contemporary art (as in life), every time we blink we open our eyes to a new now. Or, more cynically, we are always trying to tie the now up into a tidy package. Curator and critic, I’m talking to you. Or, more cynically still, meet the new now, same as the old now. The Clock of the Long Now, indeed.
“Duration Uncommon,” is a more traditionally conceptual (how do you like those two words together?) 60-minute video installation of a book of numbers that’s projected downward on a white box. We watch hands flipping through the pages, opening to a page, flipping through again, opening…and on each page we see, for example, that on page 431, the number “431″ is printed 431 times. Is this simply another marking of time, page by page? Would I be crazy to apply metaphor? To equate the book with a Book of Days, with a life, that is, as a durational experience with a beginning and an end? I was of equal measures entranced by the work, and (once I’d figured out the program and bounced it off like works) impatient with it, as I rarely am with a good book.